Alaka‘i Academy moving forward: Preschool looking to build campus of its own

Alaka‘i Academy is moving forward with plans to build a preschool campus of its own off Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona.

The preschool, which currently operates out of Kaiwi Square in the Old Kona Industrial Area, is seeking a special permit from the Hawaii County Planning Department to use land the state has designated only for agricultural purposes for a campus on about 2 acres mauka of the state highway and north of Hualalai Road.

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Alaka‘i Academy, operated by Pablo Penaloza, opened in 2014. Licensed by the state Department of Human Services, the preschool boasts an enrollment of 72 students with 13 staff members.

Development of the new school would provide capacity for future expansion, as well as for more non-school hour opportunities for students and their families, according to Penaloza’s application for the special permit. The Leeward Planning Commission is set to take up the request during its meeting scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Thursday via Zoom.

“We envision that the new facility will have capacity to serve our current license capacity of 72 children on Day One. We would likely build in some excess capacity to accommodate growth in the future. It is worth noting that the COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on our enrollment and we are currently below our capacity. Yet, our goal would be to increase he enrollment overtime,” Penaloza wrote, noting that staffing would likely increase to 15.

The acreage being eyed for the preschool, though designated agricultural, is not considered to have high agricultural potential due to “very poor” soil. A special permit is required to allow for school use of the acreage.

“The use is reasonable in the Agricultural District because the property does not have a high potential for agriculture and could better serve the community through its use as a school,” reads the planning director’s recommendation, finding the project an “unusual and reasonable use” within the district, and not contrary to state land use laws and regulations.

Surrounding land is also designated agricultural with the Kona Heights subdivision located about 1,300 feet north and the Hualalai Colony subdivision about 500 feet east of the proposed preschool. Directly north is Innovations Public Charter School’s 9.3-acre campus that serves pupils in grades kindergarten through eight. Vacant lands make up the remainder of the area.

The school would comprise a “set” of buildings totaling 10,000 square feet. It will include classrooms, bathrooms, and a cafeteria with a kitchen, as well as a lobby, administrative office space and storage rooms. A tent-like pavilion will be constructed for student use, such as outdoor performances and gatherings.

The academy would operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and be closed on weekends and major holidays. Drop off and pick up times would be between 7 and 9 a.m. and 3 and 5 p.m., respectively. The preschool will remain open over the summer and non-holiday school breaks.

When pre-K school is not in session, the applicant plans to rent out the venue for events such as fundraisers. Such events could include outdoor gatherings of 50 people on Saturdays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and community events of 25 people using classrooms and/or outdoor areas Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. Approximately once annually, the applicant plans on hosting a larger school fundraiser that could host up to 100 people and will be held entirely outdoors. Hours for such event would be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The school would use the existing paved Kakalina Extension access road that leads to Hualalai Road for two-way ingress/egress to the school.

A traffic study was completed in November 2020, however, visitor and school traffic could not be accounted for due to the travel restrictions and school closures. To determine traffic, Island Engineering Inc. said it inflated the measured traffic counts to account for diminished use, finding only two cars used the left and right turn lanes on Hualalai during the peak times.

The county Department of Public Works commented the inflated numbers were too low, but deferred to the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over Hualalai Road and Highway 11. The DOT requested an updated traffic impact study, as well as more information on traffic that could be generated via the secondary proposed uses.

The Department of Water Supply noted an existing 8-inch water line is inadequate to provide the required 2,000 gallons per minute flow for fire protection. “Due to inadequate flow for fire protection the applicant will provide a charged water fire suppression system using an onsite holding tank and pump with back-up generator, with design and capacity to be approved by the Hawaii County Fire Department.

There is also only one water credit available to the site, which equates to about 400 gallons of water use daily, which is suitable for a single-family dwelling. The applicant anticipates average daily consumption would be about 2,270 gallons per day with a maximum daily consumption of 3,800 gallons.

“The applicant has stated the actual use will be far less based on the usage at the school’s current location, and that the school could operate with the allotted one (1) unit of water,” the recommendation reads, continuing to note that a condition of approval will be to limit use to the single unit and require additional water storage

Also Thursday, the Leeward Planning Commission will take up an application for a use permit to operate a two-bedroom bed and breakfast within an existing three-bedroom dwelling on 3.14 acres on the makai side of Mamalahoa Highway, adjacent to and south of the Kona Coastview subdivision. The planning director recommended approval of the application that would permit up to 10 guests for overnight stays.

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Lastly, commissioners will hear a special permit application by Douglas and Kathryn Hickey to legitimize the establishment of a venue for weddings and similar gatherings on about 2 acres of a 20-acre condominium property regime on 80 acres of state land designated for agricultural use. The planning director has recommended the application be denied.

To view the agenda, background reports and recommendations, visithttps://www.hawaiicounty.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/1378/228. It will be available for viewing via livestream on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAFoRMb3rfWLQMPd6TAkEGA.

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